In today’s increasingly digital world, the network has become the beating heart of every enterprise. It’s expected to operate reliably while other parts of the business – from payroll, sales and logistics to customer relationship management, human resources and more – depend on it to run applications, share information, and more. Simply put, without a healthy network, your business could flatline. That’s why managing network performance, security and analytics is a top priority for every savvy IT and network operations team today.
Networks today must be adapted to support the use of innovative new technology initiatives like SD-WAN, Internet of Things, cloud computing, intent-based networking and more – all while capital budgets remain more or less flat. This presents a real problem when deciding how best to tackle system upgrades. Historically, teams either buy the right equipment for current capacity requirements without considering future needs, or haphazardly purchase beyond current needs in preparation for increased future capacity (which could take years). Unfortunately, both options are often flawed, inefficient and wasteful.
For example, sizing the network for current needs can be a good idea in the short term as it saves capital expense and provides the level of functionality immediately needed. However, as your network grows, security and bandwidth demands change and new regulations come into play, which can quickly render the original purchase obsolete, costing you dearly when you undergo a second, third or fourth equipment upgrade over a short period of time due to poor planning.
On the flip side, upgrading the network with performance capabilities far beyond its current needs is a clear waste of finite capital budget. Expensive ports sit empty and processing power, memory and other components are under-utilized – potentially never being required to perform at full capacity. With the rapid pace of technological development, by the time the unused capacity is needed, the equipment itself may very well be out of date with newly released options.
Given these obvious shortcomings, many network equipment manufacturers claim their solutions are “scalable” and “future proof” to entice customers. Unfortunately, these capabilities come with inherent limitations. Scalability is usually limited to a relatively small range within the target market. For example, a product optimized for small businesses may have some growth flexibility within the product, but will never scale to meet enterprise needs. And in reality, networking equipment labeled as future proof only covers a fairly narrow window of time, since there’s no telling what new networking innovations and solutions are just around the corner. Again, networks are always transitioning.
Fortunately, recent chip technology and innovative engineering advancements have transformed the network equipment purchase paradigm described above. Equipment overhauls at every major growth point are no longer the norm. Instead, vendors now offer scalable, growth-enabling networking platforms that allow for incremental changes to manage continual growth and changing requirements over time.
Instead of scaling up (constantly purchasing new equipment with added capacity and functionality to keep up with the growth of the business), this platform approach allows IT to “scale out,” offering a flexible starting point designed to be built around, scaled and adapted. And this development couldn’t be emerging at a better time, as the rate of technology innovation and pace of network growth continues to increase rapidly. But, in order to manage, optimize and secure your next-gen network, it’s critical to maintain and leverage granular visibility across the entire, ever-changing fabric.
Networks have billions of bits of information traversing their links every second, originating from countless sources and directed at all types of destinations. This traffic may be authorized data, malicious code or anything in between. In order to manage your growing network effectively and support positive end-user experiences (while protecting your organization’s sensitive information) you need to be able to see and understand traffic patterns, root out malware, optimize application performance, protect critical infrastructure, identify duplications and perform many other critical network management functions.
Granular visibility is the foundation of network performance and security (and the ability to do complex analytics), especially as major technology advancements like SD-WAN, IoT and others create more and more complex, multi-fabric, multi-cloud networks. Visibility enables operators to quickly and more effectively anticipate future equipment requirements, scale their networks, deploy new technology initiatives, see into blind spots, and identify and remediate issues before they impact the business. But, where does that critical network visibility come from? In Part II of this series, we’ll explore how network performance monitoring solutions and security tools access the data needed to manage and secure these next-gen networks.